Turkey's courts have blocked access to Twitter a little over a week before elections as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan battles a corruption scandal that has seen social media awash with claims of alleged government wrongdoing. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
Turkey's ban on Twitter ahead of bitterly contested elections
brought a furious reaction at home and abroad, with users of
the social networking service denouncing the move as a
"digital coup" and the president expressing his disapproval.
A court blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Tayyip
Erdogan's defiant vow, on the campaign trail ahead of March
30 local elections, to "wipe out" the social media service,
whatever the international community had to say about it.
Industry Minister Fikri Isik said talks with Twitter were
taking place and the ban would be lifted if the San
Francisco-based firm appointed a representative in Turkey and
agreed to block specific content when requested by Turkish
"We stand with our users in Turkey who rely on Twitter as a
vital communications platform. We hope to have full access
returned soon," the company said in a tweet.
A company spokesman declined to say whether it would appoint
someone in Turkey but said it was moving forward in talks
with the government.
Tech-savvy Turks - President Abdullah Gul apparently among
them - quickly found ways to circumvent the ban, with the
hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey among the top trending
globally on Friday.
"One cannot approve of the complete closure of social media
platforms," Gul tweeted, voicing his hope that the ban would
be short-lived and setting himself publicly at odds with the
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 11 years, is
battling a corruption scandal that has been fed by social
media awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing.
He did not mention the Twitter ban at two campaign rallies on
Turkey's main opposition party said it would challenge the
ban and file a criminal complaint against Erdogan on the
grounds of violating personal freedoms. The country's bar
association filed a separate court challenge.
Twitter users called the move a "digital coup", some
comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media
platforms are tightly controlled. There were also calls for
"Waking up to no Twitter in Turkey feels like waking up to a
coup. The modern equivalent of occupying the radio stations,"
U.S. author and journalist Andrew Finkel, who has reported
from Turkey for more than 20 years, said on his Twitter
Erdogan's ruling AK Party has already tightened Internet
controls, handed government more influence over the courts
and reassigned thousands of police and hundreds of
prosecutors and judges as it fights the corruption scandal,
which the prime minister has cast as a plot by political
enemies to oust him.
Gul, seen as a more conciliatory figure than Erdogan, has
been hesitant to openly criticise the prime minister in the
run-up to the election, despite the scandal and the latter's
increasing claims of a conspiracy against his government.
The two co-founded the Islamist-rooted AK Party and Gul is
seen as a potential successor to Erdogan should the latter
run for the presidency in an August vote. His critics say his
own ambitions have made him too cautious about challenging
Erdogan, by far the most powerful figure in the ruling party.
Telecoms watchdog BTK said Twitter had been blocked by the
courts after complaints were made by citizens that it was
breaching privacy. It said the social media service had
ignored previous requests to remove content.
"Because there was no other choice, access to Twitter was
blocked in line with court decisions to avoid the possible
future victimisation of citizens," it said.
European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said the
move raised grave concerns and "cast doubt on Turkey's stated
commitment to European values and standards". Turkey has been
seeking membership of the EU for decades.
Germany, home to the largest Turkish diaspora in Europe, said
the move did not fit with its view of freedom of expression,
while the British Foreign Office said social media had a
"vital role to play in a modern democracy".
Turkey's financial markets were unsettled, with the lira
weakening to 2.24 against the dollar, shares underperforming
emerging markets peers and the benchmark 10-year bond rising
to 11.24 percent from 11.12.
Twitter published a tweet to Turkish users instructing them
on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.
Erdogan was scathing about the service on Thursday. "We will
wipe out all of these," he said. "The international community
can say this, can say that. I don't care at all. Everyone
will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is."
Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said he expected the block
to be temporary while Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek told
state broadcaster TRT Haber the closure "does not derive from
a prohibitive mentality" and was nothing other than the
application of a court ruling.